House Ways and Means chairperson Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda has urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to strengthen the implementation of the “Plant, Plant, Plant” program as food prices continue to soar and to ensure that the production and transport of food remains unhampered in the country.
Salceda, who also co-chairs the House Economic Recovery Cluster, warned that while December prices met the government’s 2-4 percent inflation target, the impact of higher prices of food will be a pill that is a bit harder to swallow among the poorest segments of the population and may not appear in statistics.
Salceda made the comments following the release of the December 2020 inflation figures, which showed meat prices growing by 10 percent and vegetable prices by a dramatic 19.7 percent.
“Inflation hits everyone differently, so I do not take kindly the dismissive remarks that this is just ‘temporary.’ The poorest third of our population spends 60 percent of their income on food, so food inflation hits them harder than wealthier segments. Prices don’t rise for them in aggregate terms. Price effect, for them, is primarily determined by food prices,” Salceda said.
“Of course, in normal conditions, higher food prices would have led to a higher poverty rate. But, I suspect the COVID-19 pandemic has already pushed that number to an elevated level that higher food prices will hit those who are only recorded as ‘poor.’ So what higher food prices will do is worsen the misery of those who are already counted in the poverty rate – and our statistics do not measure this,” Salceda added.
Strengthen “Plant, Plant, Plant,” Focus on urban poor, rural communities
Salceda added that the DA’s “Plant, Plant, Plant” program may have to be calibrated such that it ‘fills subsistence demands and encourages backyard and household food sufficiency.”
Under the 2021 General Appropriations Act, some P85.6 billion is allocated for the DA for 2021. The agency’s flagship program, which is the “Plant, Plant, Plant,” is aimed at modernizing agriculture.
Salceda believes, however, that the DA may need to make food sufficiency a community-level goal instead of an aggregate national goal, especially as transport and logistics issues persist during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As transport prices rise, food will also continue to be more expensive, unless food is already available where households are. Households in the gravest danger of hunger during the pandemic are urban poor communities and the most rural areas of the country,” Salceda added.
“Food is everything for economic recovery”
Salceda also said that sufficient and affordable food supply will accelerate economic recovery, while elevated prices will slow down economic performance.
“Food is everything for economic recovery. If food continues to be expensive, wages will have to be elevated. Our competitiveness as an industrial location will suffer. We have to keep food prices cheap by keeping supply enough,” he added.
Salceda also warned the DA to pay attention to prices of fish, which he says will likely go up as the natural alternative to higher meat prices.
“I expect fish prices to go up, especially canned fish. So, we will need to watch out for price shocks in this segment of goods as well,” Salceda added.
“The economic metrics will not measure the depth of misery that the poor will suffer with growing food prices. But it’s real, and it must be addressed, because it has long-term consequences on our economic competitiveness and the health and capacity of our people,” Salceda concluded.